Plenary Session: Building on the Shuttle Legacy 21 January 2021 1400 - 1515

Forty years ago NASA’s Space Shuttle Program began. NASA’s fourth program for human spaceflight had a mission to provide routine transportation to low Earth orbit with a reusable vehicle. Thirty years and only 133 missions later, shuttle Discovery concluded the program, arguably without completing the original vision. Or did it? Over the 30 years there were successes and failures, but the technological advancement and inspiration were to be the foundation for the next generation of commercial spaceflight.

Consider 28 January 1986 when STS-51-L lifted off from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center and 73 seconds later the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew of seven were lost after a catastrophic structural failure occurred. The images from that day were burned into the memories of everyone watching and the moment was a turning point in our collective drive to explore space. Thirty-five years later, many of the people that watched that day are working to ensure the legacy and promise of the Challenger mission lives on. 

The conversation will explore the impact Challenger, Columbia, and the overall Shuttle Program had on multiple generations of space explorers – what lessons have we learned, how has our outlook on human spaceflight evolved, and why do the missions, specifically the Challenger crew, still resonate so strongly. Facilitated by veteran aerospace journalist Miles O’ Brien, the panel will provide insights and stories that will connect the dots to today’s human spaceflight outlook.